The blight that had come upon Irish politics did not abate with the death of Parnell. Neither side seemed to spare enough charity from its childish disputations to make an honest and sincere effort at settlement. There was no softening of the asperities of public life on the part of the Parnellites - they claimed that their leader had been hounded to his death, and they were not going to join hands in a blessed forgiveness of the bitter years that had passed with those who had lost to Ireland her greatest champion. On the other hand, the Anti-Parnellites showed no better disposition. It had been one of their main contentions that Parnell was not an indispensable leader and that he could be very well done without. They were to prove by their own conduct and incapacity what a hollow mockery this was and how feeble was even the best of them without the guidance of the master mind. They cut a pitiful figure in Parliament, where their internal bickerings and miserable squabbles reduced them to positive impotence. For years the "Antis," as they were termed, were divided into two almost equal sections, one upholding the claims of John Dillon and the other faithful to the flag of T.M. Healy. Meanwhile Justin McCarthy, a man of excellent intention but of feeble grasp, occupied the chair of the Party, but did nothing to direct its policy. He was a decent figurehead, but not much else. William O'Brien lent all the support of his powerful personality to Mr Dillon in the hope that, by establishing his leadership and keeping the door open for reconciliation with the Parnellite minority, he could restore the Party to some of its former efficiency and make it once again the spear-head of the constitutional fight for Ireland's liberties. Mr Healy, whose boldness of attack upon Parnell had won him the enthusiastic regard of the clergy as well as the title of "The Man in the Gap," was also well supported within the Party - in fact, there were times when he carried a majority of the Party with him. After Parnell's overthrow a committee was elected by the Anti-Parnellites to debate and decide policy, but it was in truth left to decide very little, for the agile intellect of Mr Healy invariably transferred the fight from it to the Party, which had now become a veritable hell of incompatibilities and disagreements.

At this time also indications came from outside that all was not well within the Liberal ranks. Some of the most prominent members of this Party began to think that the G.O.M. was getting too old for active leadership and should be sent to the House of Lords. Justin McCarthy also reported an interview he had with Gladstone, in which the G.O.M. plainly hinted that, so far as Home Rule was concerned, he could no longer hope to be in at the finish, and that there was a strong feeling among his own friends that Irish legislation should be shelved for a few years so that place might be yielded to British affairs. The General Election of 1892 had taken place not, as may be imagined, under the best set of circumstances for the Liberals. The Nationalist members were still faithful to their alliance, which had cost Ireland so much, and which was to cost her yet more, and this enabled the Liberals to remain in office with a shifting and insecure majority of about 42 when all their hosts were reckoned up.

It is claimed for the Home Rule Bill of 1893 that it satisfied all Mr Parnell's stipulations. However this may be, Mr Redmond and his friends seemed to think otherwise, for they raised many points and pressed several amendments to a division on one occasion, reducing the Government majority to 14 on the question of the Irish representation at Westminster, which the Parnellites insisted should remain at 103. How the mind of Nationalist Ireland has changed since then!

Mr Thomas Sexton was one of the brilliant intellects of the Party at this period, a consummate orator, a reputed master of all the intricacies of international finance, and in every sense of the word a first-rate House of Commons man. But he had in some way or other aroused the implacable ire of Mr T.M. Healy, whose sardonic invective he could not stand. A politician has no right to possess a sensitive skin, but somehow Mr Sexton did, with the result that he allowed himself to be driven from public life rather than endure the continual stabs of a tongue that could be very terrible at times - though I would say myself of its owner that he possesses a heart as warm as ever beat in Irish breast.

The fate of the Home Rule Bill of 1893 was already assured long before it left the House of Commons. Like the Bill of 1886 it came to grief on the fear of the English Unionists for the unity of the Empire. Home Rule was conquered by Imperialism, and the Ulster opposition was merely used as a powerful and effective argument in the campaign.

Ireland had sunk meanwhile into a hopeless stupor. The attitude of the Irish masses appeared to be one of despairing indifference to all the parties whose several newspapers were daily engaged in the delectable task of hurling anathemas at each other's heads. Interest in the national cause had almost completely ebbed away. A Liberal Chief Secretary, in the person of Mr John Morley, reigned in Dublin Castle, but all that he is remembered for now is that he started the innovation of placing Nationalist and Catholic Justices of the Peace on the bench, who became known in time as "the Morley magistrates." Otherwise he left Dublin Castle as formidable a fortress of ascendancy authority as it had ever been. Under conditions as they were then, or as they are now, no Chief Secretary can hope to fundamentally alter the power of the Castle. "Imagine," writes M. Paul Dubois in Contemporary Ireland : "the situation of a Chief Secretary newly appointed to his most difficult office. He comes to Ireland full of prejudices and preconceptions, and, like most Englishmen, excessively ignorant of Irish conditions.... It does not take him long to discover that he is completely in the hands of his functionaries. His Parliamentary duties keep him in London for six or eight months of the year, and he is forced to accept his information on current affairs in Ireland from the permanent officials of the Castle, without having even an opportunity of verifying it, and to rely on their recommendations in making appointments. The representative of Ireland in England and of England in Ireland he is 'an embarrassed phantom' doomed to be swept away by the first gust of political change. The last twenty years, indeed, have seen thirteen chief secretaries come and go! With or against his will he is a close prisoner of the irresponsible coterie which forms the inner circle of Irish administration. Even a change of Government in England is not a change of Government in Ireland. The Chief Secretary goes, but the permanent officials remain. The case of the clock is changed, but the mechanism continues as before.... The Irish oligarchy has retained its supremacy in the Castle. Dislodged elsewhere it still holds the central fortress of Irish administration and will continue to hold it until the concession of autonomy to Ireland enables the country to re-mould its administrative system on national and democratic lines."

When it came to Gladstone surrendering the sceptre he had so long and brilliantly wielded, I do not remember that the event excited any overpowering interest in Ireland. Outside the ranks of the politicians the people had almost ceased to speculate on these matters. A period of utter stagnation had supervened and it came as no surprise or shock to Nationalist sentiment when Home Rule was formally abandoned by Gladstone's successor, Lord Rosebery. "Home Rule is as dead as Queen Anne," declared Mr Chamberlain. These are the kind of declarations usually made in the exuberance of a personal or political triumph, but the passing of the years has a curious knack of giving them emphatic refutation.

Divided as they were and torn with dissensions, the Nationalists were not in a position where they could effectively demand guarantees from Lord Rosebery or enter into any definite arrangement with him. They kept up their squalid squabble and indulged their personal rivalries, but a disgusted country had practically withdrawn all support from them, and an Irish race which in the heyday of Parnell was so proud to contribute to their war-chest, now buttoned up its pockets and in the most practical manner told them it wanted none of them.

In this state of dereliction and despair did the General Election of 1895 surprise them. The Parnellites had their old organisation - the National League - and the Anti-Parnellites had established in opposition to this the National Federation, so that Ireland had a sufficiency of Leagues but no concrete programme beyond a disreputable policy of hacking each other all round. As a matter of fact, we had in Cork city the curious and almost incredible spectacle of the Dillonites and Healyites joining forces to crush the Parnellite candidate, whilst elsewhere they were tearing one another to tatters, as it would almost appear, for the mere love of the thing.

There was one pathetic figure in all this wretched business - that of the Hon. Edward Blake, who had been Prime Minister of Canada and who had surrendered a position of commanding eminence in the political, legal and social life of the Dominion to give the benefit of his splendid talents to the service of Ireland. It was a service rendered all in vain, though, to the end of his life, with a noble fidelity, he devoted himself to his chosen cause, thus completing a sacrifice which deserved a worthier reward.

At this period the Home Rule Cause seemed to be buried in the same grave with Parnell. It may be remarked that there were countless bodies of the Irish peasantry who still believed that Parnell had not died, that the sad pageant of his funeral and burial was a prearranged show to deceive his enemies, and that the time would soon come when the mighty leader would emerge from his seclusion to captain the hosts of Irish nationality in the final battle for independence. This idea lately found expression in a powerful play by Mr Lennox Robinson, entitled The Lost Leader.

But, alas! for the belief, the chieftain had only too surely passed away, and when the General Election of 1895 was over it was a battered, broken and bitterly divided Irish Party which returned to Westminster - a Party which had lost all faith in itself and which was a byword and a reproach alike for its helpless inefficiency and its petty intestine quarrels.